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The Reeler Blog

Once Twice: Carney's Gem Screens in NYC

The Reeler recently checked in with filmmaker John Carney, whose minimalist Irish musical Once had its New York premiere last night at New Directors/New Films. The ultra-endearing tale of a busker (Glen Hansard) who develops a musical -- and allusively romantic -- connection with a pianist (Markéta Irglová) in Dublin, the film claimed this year's World Cinema Audience Award at Sundance and was picked up for American distribution by Fox Searchlight (it opens May 18 in New York).

Once more: Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová in John Carney's verite musical, screening in this year's New Directors/New Films festival (Photo: Fox Searchlight)

Carney had arrived in town late Wednesday for the festival's opening-night party and was preparing for his own opening when we spoke Thursday afternoon. "Obviously a New York audience is very clued in, very cine-literate, and I guess I hope they feel that the film works on its own terms," he told me about anticipating the event. "That's all I really care about. As long as it works on it's own terms, you know, I'm happy enough. The same way a pop song works on its own terms. It's not Bach, and it's not Mozart, but it works in its own context. And I guess ... the feedback I'd like to get is, 'We entered into a world we believed in and we were satisfied at the end.' That's my hope for it. I just hope that people get into that world and enjoy it. And if people have a musical bone in their bodies, I think they're pretty much going to like this film."

Not to shill, but I wouldn't disagree. Once is just that good -- self-possessed without being self-conscious, offering no apologies for its microbudget video grain or loose structure or high spirits. It doesn't make demands against genre incredulity, and it starts and ends so suddenly -- so authentically -- that it's virtually impossible to reject.

"I always thought I'd love to get my hands on a script that worked as a musical, or I'd love it if somebody brought me an idea that was a musical film," said Carney, a former bandmate of Hansard's in the Irish band The Frames and a filmmaker with four previous features behind him. "I love Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra musicals and Guys and Dolls -- I'm a big fan of that type of film. So it's always been a challenge to me to make a musical that worked and that an audience could accept. Obviously, a younger audience is just not really going to accept people breaking into song anymore -- walking down the street and suddenly singing to each other. It was a real challenge to try and come up with a world where it was acceptable that people would sing and experiment with songs -- rehearse songs with each other and express themselves through music."

It worked for me, and you can check it out for yourself at Once's final ND/NF screening tonight at 8 at MoMA. Carney will return in May with Hansard and Irglová; look for more here around that time.

Posted at March 23, 2007 1:10 PM

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